Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crossing over

It's not often you find a gardener who's a designer. Or, for that matter, a designer who will readily admit to being a gardener: the best ones will usually be keen gardeners in their own gardens, but professionally there's not much cross-over between the two.

As time goes on, though, I'm finding the lines are becoming increasingly blurred for me between professional gardening and designing. I've had two regular clients ask me to design their gardens, or bits of them: one is a clear-ground project which will probably take years as we're doing it mostly by hand; the other is a perfectly good garden at the moment which they're about to rip up for an extension, so it'll need a re-work afterwards.

What's more, a designer I sometimes work for as a gardener has now asked me to help her out and design part of two of her clients' gardens - they've asked for veggie gardens and she doesn't know much about vegetables.

So all of a sudden, I find myself being a professional gardener and a designer.

Well that got me thinking. I actually really enjoy designing with plants - not so keen on the concrete and garden furniture bit, but love the idea of putting my favourite plants together so that they really sing. I've started to wonder if I might be able to break the mould a bit, and wear two hats at the same time - professional gardener, and plant designer.

To that end (and so that I'm not entirely talking out of my backside when asked to do these projects) I've signed up for a college course at Capel Manor College in London. This is one of the better design colleges, and to its great credit has a garden design course that concentrates solely on plant design. I'm starting by learning how to draw (never a great strength of mine) - first lesson at the end of next month. Wish me luck!

10 comments:

VP said...

Good luck! If only Capel College was closer to home - I'm doing it by distance learning with KLC instead, but would prefer face to face learning.

Nancy J. Bond said...

Good luck with your new endeavour!

The Constant Gardener said...

thanks guys! Capel Manor isn't that close to me either - it's going to be a horrendous journey to get there, at least an hour and a half - but then I figure I haven't commuted in a couple of years and I need to remind myself of what a nightmare it can be :D

I looked at the KLC courses too - interesting. Inchbald are also starting an online course I believe. Everybody's doing it...

James A-S said...

I have discovered that you can be a gardener without being a garden designer but (big but) you cannot be a good garden designer without being a gardener. So there.

Zoƫ said...

Have a great time doing it, I did a year at Merrist Wood and then went on to Sparsholt doing design at a higher level. It is wonderfully exciting and nerve wrecking all at once! You'll have a head start on the arty types - your horticultural knowledge will be an asset. I'm new to your blog, but have just spent a delightful hour reading your posts!

The Constant Gardener said...

thanks Zoe - I live about 2 miles from Merrist Wood and that was my first choice too. Andrew Wilson is fab. They don't do a plant design course though - and I don't really want to be (only?) a garden designer as such...

which brings me to your point JAS - I totally agree with you, all the best garden designers are also very keen (and experienced and knowledgeable) gardeners.

It just saddens me sometimes that there seems to be such an us-and-them attitude. I don't see why you can't be both - gardeners and designers are just about making beautiful gardens, after all, aren't we?

But nobody seems to do that. You either design gardens - or you look after them. I'd kind of like to look after the gardens I design - can't imagine walking away from them, in fact. But maybe that's just me being naive...

James A-S said...

The problem with looking after every garden you design is that, assuming you want to spend a day a fortnight looking after each one, you can then only design fourteen of them (twelve if you want weekends off). You have, at some point, to make a choice: I made the decision to concentrate on design when my back started to complain.

I also agree that the idea of a them and us thing is ridiculous.In my time I have experienced a fair bit of hostility from head gardeners which can be a bit awkward - only once has it threatened to become violent.

The secret is to always acknowledge their superior knowledge of the practical side of the garden: ask questions, pay attention to the answers and always give credit to those who will execute and maintain your cunning schemes. In their turn they have to understand that the client has not asked you in to criticise the way the garden is run but to make it better (and probably easier to work).Gardeners need to realise that not all designers are
flouncing, floppy haired and arrogant - many of them know exactly what they are doing (although I admit that some of them are simply not very good).

My best jobs last about a decade so I see how things grow and how well my plans have turned out. Close contact and making friends with both clients and gardeners works wonders.

While I am blethering on I also believe that a designer, no matter how well trained, will never be any good if they don't know how a wall is built or a paving stone laid. How can you instruct a contractor if you don't know if they are doing the job correctly ? Get out there and spend time laying bricks and getting muddy: ideas and qualifications are not always enough.

VP said...

Now you've told me about your commute, I'm intrigued by your choice. Is it because you value a more hands on approach, the face to face contact, the status of the college, all of these and/or something else? That kind of commute signals one hell of a commitment and one hell of a course!

The Head of Capel Manor's interviewed in this month's 'The Garden'. If the College refelects his attitude and enthusiam, then I can begin to understand your choice.

I'm now looking at my local agricultural college for courses to provide 'the basics' before completing the KLC course. I've realised I'm a practical learner rather than a bookish/cyberspace one.

I wish you even more luck!

The Constant Gardener said...

james - I will be amazed if anyone wants me to design four gardens, let alone fourteen. Well - I think you're probably right, one day I'll be forced to make a choice; at the moment I want to do everything and we all know where that leads :D

sadly I have spent more time than I care to remember both laying bricks and getting muddy (especially the latter). Not I'm sure to anything like a professional standard (but then I never wanted to be a builder) - the net result has been to convince me that I don't want to do any more of that sort of thing than I absolutely have to. I think I'm actually allergic to concrete. However - I think you're utterly, utterly right about the ideas and qualifications thing. that's what I'm worried about at the moment really - that I don't know, because I've never actually done it, what I'm doing. If that makes any sense - probably doesn't, but I'm a couple of beers down now as it's getting late.

and vp - the choice was made for me by the courses they offer. I couldn't find anywhere else that did a plant design course (as opposed to a garden design course). I must read that interview - I have my copy of The Garden unread on my desk at the moment, it always seems to be the last day of the month before I actually open my garden magazines... but that's another story...

The Constant Gardener said...

PS - have never met a garden designer who's flouncing, floppy haired and arrogant. Perhaps you could introduce me? :D

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